Imagine if you will a boy of seventeen sprawled unenthusiastically across the bed of his brother's room, casually reading lyrics from the booklet of a borrowed CD. He is blissfully unaware of the paradigm shift at hand. Within the hour, in a surge of youthful vigor, he will anoint an album king and deem everything else to be insignificant and shabby. And what is this discovery? What album could cause such a cataclysm? For me it was Quicksand's Slip. In 1993, it was hands down the best thing I had ever heard. Its message of strength and self-sufficiency in the face of staggering disillusionment made an instant connection. The gigantic riffs were edgy and menacing, but, most importantly, deep within that wall of sound there was a voice of thrilling lucidity. That voice belonged to Walter Schreifels. His honesty and emotional integrity left an indelible mark.
For many, the soundtrack of youth is a choice based on raw emotion, and years after the fact they find that they are no worse for having loved and lost. But in my case, I still need a voice, or, at the very least, someone or something that can begin at a moment in the past and account for my travel through time. Therefore it is only fitting that Walter Schreifels should arrive here today sounding better than he ever has. In the ten years since Slip, he released a second album with Quicksand and recorded yet another under the Rival Schools moniker. That band seemed more like a bridge to his present incarnation than a completely sustaining entity in and of itself. With Rival Schools the guitar sludge of Quicksand had become more melodious, but it still allowed the legions of hardcore faithful to hold out hope for the return of the behemoth. With Walking Concert, Schreifels has finally laid the beast to rest. The songs on Run to Be Born owe far more to the Kinks and Bowie than they do to Black Flag or Minor Threat. As much as this fundamental shift might seem like a stretch, Schreifels is completely at peace with the new material. He has developed into a truly engaging songwriter, equally as adept with recollection and pop culture reference as he ever was with personal struggle and angry confrontation.
It should be pointed out that Walking Concert is by no means a solo endeavor. Schreifels has enlisted a trio of musicians in Ryan Stratton (bass), Jeffrey Johnson (guitar), and Drew Thomas (drums) to aid him in his transformation. And it is clearly evident that the four are enjoying their time together. Run to Be Born leaps out of the gate with the hand-clapping pop of "What's Your New Thing?". The song exudes a joyous energy that continues throughout tracks like Brit-obsessed "Aluminium", the goofy hi-jinks of "Studio Space", and the twinkling sway of "Audrey". There is even a bit of psychedelia on "Girls in the Field" for those keeping score at home, and a rocking rave up cover of Marc Bolan's "Mustang Ford".
But what's is truly exciting is when the band capitalizes on these '60s flourishes to create a dynamic pop identity of its own. For instance, "Hands Up" rides a head-lolling, Pavement-esque verse into a joyous explosion of chorus that can't help but bring a smile to even the least gracious of cynics. Another marvelous number is "The Animals". On the surface it's a simple story of a girl and trip to Six Flags' Great Adventure, but it's really far more than that. It is surely one Schriefels' finest moments as a songwriter. The recollection of events is both endearing and humorous, but what's even more impressive is the song's structure itself. Most of Schriefels' previous work has relied on driving rhythms and builds and bursts of guitar, but this track shape-shifts elegantly from moment to moment without forcing the hand of repetition. Even better is "Calypso Slide". It slips and sways with sleepy energy, but beneath the surface it's as seamless as any Motown single. It without a doubt embodies its own best lyric: "Don't worry butterfly / You're landing every trick you try". It is time that that be said of Schreifels himself, who after 10 years of solid effort is finally making his case as one of the finest songwriters of his generation.